Cardiovascular Alterations

Team Overview
Space exploration missions can have deleterious effects on the cardiovascular system. Conversely, astronauts on long-duration missions who have pre-existing, but undetected, cardiovascular disease are at risk for life- and mission-threatening complications when they are far from medical help. The Cardiovascular Alterations Team is determining the effect of long-duration spaceflight on the heart and blood vessels and researching ways to reduce the risks and to improve pre-flight detection and management of cardiovascular diseases. The Team works closely with colleagues in flight medicine at NASA Johnson Space Center to develop screening programs for astronauts and to limit the risk of developing cardiovascular events during a long-duration mission.

The Team has a number of aims, which include quantifying the risk of coronary events associated with changes in coronary artery calcium scores and determining whether high levels of fitness or use of cholesterol-lowering medication can influence this risk. Researchers are especially concerned about whether space radiation affects endothelial cells, the lining of blood vessels, which might initiate or accelerate coronary heart disease. They are simultaneously examining the efficacy of countermeasures, such as strong anti-oxidants, to the effects of radiation exposure on the blood vessels.

The Team is also using novel ultrasound techniques to assess changes in cardiac size, shape and function over the course of prolonged spaceflight on the International Space Station. Because the heart seems to shrink and reduce its ability to fill completely in space, activities such as exercise or temperature control may be compromised. Therefore, the Team also is determining whether spaceflight impairs temperature regulation in the body.

Team Leader:
Benjamin D. Levine, M.D.
University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas

Associate Team Leader:
Jay C. Buckey, Jr, M.D.
Dartmouth Medical School, Dartmouth College


Researchers at the University of Alabama-Birmingham, led by Dr. Dennis Kucik, have published an article in the journal Radiation Research about their NSBRI-funded research project studying effects of ion radiation on the arteries. Read the press release